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Early start of African free trade hazy



Only seven out of 22 countries have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), making its early implementation is hazy.

With each country having 120 days after signing the framework to ratify it, the deal which is meant to create a single continental market for goods and services may not be in force soon.

But as at the end of August, only seven countries had ratified the deal.

Although 49 out of Africa’s 55 countries signed the framework, the ratification of the AfCFTA is expected to come into effect 30 days after ratification by the parliaments of at least 22 countries, considering that 44 countries signed the deal on March 21, 2018.

Nigeria, hitherto considered to host the AfCFTA secretariat, pulled out at the last minute, and is yet to resolve domestic issues with members of the private sector that opposed the signing of the deal.

During a visit to Abuja by the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, a week after the African Union (AU’s) mid-year summit, President Muhammadu Buhari had promised that Nigeria would sign the agreement.

But officials say they don’t see this happening before the presidential elections next year.

Nigeria would have been a logical host for the secretariat, as it previously led plans to get the AfCFTA off the ground.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), continues to kick against the deal, citing inadequate protectionist measures to safeguard local industrial firms from unfair competition and exposure to other African countries.

Advocates of the trade deal noted that the AfCFTA will be one of the world’s largest free-trade areas in terms of the number of countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people, and over $4trillion in combined consumer and business spending if all 55 countries joined.

MAN President, Dr. Frank Jacobs, while citing the challenges in the implementation of the Common External Tariff (CET), noted that Nigeria is not ready for the ECOWAS market.

He pointed out that there is no wisdom in signing-on upfront only to end up struggling to find space in the accompanying protocols and annexure.

He reiterated the need to be certain that the agreement is in sync, and not constraining the nation’s extant economic policies, including the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

He said the pact has no credible country-specific study to show the potential impact of the AfCFTA; and no specific attention was given to determine the cost and benefit analysis of the agreement.

Besides, the sectors/sub-sectors that would benefit or be worse off as a result of the Agreement are unknown; just as there are no clear-cut recommendation on strategies that government would adopt to enhance the capacity of the manufacturing sector to compete effectively.

Indeed, MAN said its concerns are yet to be addressed, while pointing out that the recently conducted and launched study by the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN), has still not addressed the glaring lapses.

Jacobs expressed concern that the study failed to address the concerns of manufacturers, stressing that the outcome of the NOTN-sponsored independent study on the potential benefits of AfCFTA on Nigeria, fell short of standards, and lacked the much-needed information required to take an informed decision.

He added that Nigeria may become a big player and key driver of improved volume of intra-African trade in a Free Trade Area with the right market offer mix, rules of origin, countervailing measures, dispute settlement mechanism, non-tariff and technical barriers provisions, amongst other protocols and annexure.


Source: Guardian